Uniform and Boris Are Seeking a Special Type of Beauty

The Sacred Bones collaborators catch up about the making of Bright New Disease.

Michael Berdan is the vocalist of the New York-based industrial metal band Uniform; Atsuo is the drummer of the Tokyo-based metal band Boris. The two bands just put out a collaborative record, Bright New Disease, on Sacred Bones, so with the help of translator Kasumi Billington, the two artists caught up about it all over email. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Michael Berdan: I have a crystal clear memory of when our booking agent told us that you guys were interested in having us tour with you in 2019. Finding out that we were on your radar was one of the great honors of my life, but I couldn’t help but wonder in the back of my head… Why us? I know bands that are much bigger than Uniform that would kill to tour with Boris. How did you guys find out about us and what made you want to take us on the road?

Atsuo: It’s always hard figuring out who to choose for a support band. At that time, I didn’t know anything about Uniform. We received the suggestion from a booking agent we’d been working with for a long time, and we did some research by asking around with our trusted music-loving friends as well. 

Industrial music had become a huge focus globally at the time, and we learned about Uniform right away, and listening to your music, I thought you were amazing. However, I always think that it should be natural for an artist to have good music. There must have been another element that drew us to your band. At that time, I didn’t know what that was, but after touring together last year and now making some music together, I understand it firsthand. This is something that became clear after last year’s tour with Nothing — but I learned that Nicky from Nothing, our booking agent rep, and you all had the same background and were old friends. I think that through these connections, Boris was welcomed into your family, leading to this collaboration. I learned later on that Boris didn’t choose you, but it’s rather that you all welcomed us in, and we are very honored to be accepted into your relationship of trust.

Michael: My first exposure to you guys was in the early 2000s when Southern Lord reissued Amplifier Worship. I remember digging into your catalog and being really excited when I found a split 7″ with you guys and Tomsk-7 that you’d done on Bovine Records, which was one of my favorite American punk labels of the ’90s. I’ve always been fascinated by the bridge between Japanese and American extreme music. How did you guys start working with bands and labels from the States? I know that the Bovine 7″ came out at a similar time to the Corrupted/Noothgrush split, which was on Reservoir Records out of New York, not to mention all of the Japanese hardcore records that Slap-A-Ham and Sound Pollution were putting out at the time. How strong was the bond between the international punk community at the time?

Atsuo: That was around the time when a genre called power violence was being formed. Nowadays, you hear a genre name called “doom,” but around us with slow, heavy band members, we hear the term “sludge” more often. My impression is that bands with heavy metal backgrounds used the term doom, and those with the hardcore backbone would be sludge, so there may have been a difference between genres. Around us, we saw many bands that originated from hardcore. Corrupted and GREENMACHiNE often performed live together, and there was an increasing awareness of support underground. In the midst of that, we got in touch with Bovine by exchanging letters and fax, which led to the split’s release. At the time, we didn’t have social media or the internet, so those who were really passionate and willing would become connected to each other.

Michael: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like our conversations are usually more about the impulse to create music than about music itself. I feel like cinema and literature, as well as visual and performance art are essentially striving to reach the same emotional, spiritual, and philosophical destinations as music. I have an urge to connect, and music just happens to be where I learned how to do it. Outside of music, what inspires your creative process? 

Atsuo: I remember that you immediately began talking to me when you saw that I was wearing a Gastunk T-shirt during the US Tour. What do you like? What type of influence have you had, and what sense of values and beauty do you have? It’s much easier to share when you have similar cultural backgrounds. You and I both love Begotten, but even in Japan, there aren’t many folks who know of the movie. Of course, I love cinema, but I think we both seek works not limited to cinema that have “a special type of beauty,” which is where our values overlap. I think that art is inherited and evolves. Those who have similar genes cross paths. I don’t feel like I act upon inspiration, but rather, I feel like I’m driven by genes. I work like an ant.

Michael: Personally, I feel like the core of all art is human interaction. When I create something I’m trying to reach people who might empathize, but I’m also trying to understand myself better. Can you tell me about what drives you to create art? What feelings and ideas are you trying to convey to the world at large? Is there a personal, existential component to your work that is just for yourself?

Atsuo: The world I see can ultimately only be recognized by myself. Does that mean I’m only creating things only for myself? I am no longer able to work alone on any aspect of production, and Boris’ activities are preceded by setting schedules that require human interaction, and we improvise with events that occur through those interactions.

I’m writing this in a hotel during a tour currently, but I feel like it’s not my own thought but rather something controlled by a monster called Boris, and I also feel that it’s a very personal action. I never thought I’d have the chance to gain 30 years of activities like this, and perform the same songs for decades. Those songs that were originally just ours continue to grow thanks to listeners worldwide who have provided their own imagery and thoughts. When I said earlier that I was working like an ant, I feel that the degree which I’m creating music by being driven by something other than my ego is increasing. But in the end, only I can feel the world that spreads out right in front of me. Always facing the question, what am I? Facing it without facing it. It’s something I haven’t understood for a long time, and that’s why I keep making music. Standing at the front as a vocalist this time, I came to feel these things strongly. 

Michael: I’m continually inspired by Boris not just as musicians but as working artists. When you are not touring, you are recording. Your music has touched on countless genres over the years, but it all makes sense and feels totally natural to me as a listener. At the end of the day, it’s all Boris. When you record, do you have the goal of achieving a certain style in mind or do you just let the process unfold naturally?

Atsuo: Right — I think you were able to get to know us through the collaboration. We always entrust our minds and body to music, never take the controls, and let go and keep going. We never see a path in front of us, and there are no rules, so no traffic accidents will ever happen. It could be compared to a diver who swims by feeling the ocean’s current. The way he swims is beautiful and resonates in the hearts of those who see and hear it. The music will continue to be inherited and evolve. It’ll resonate with another listener, who will crossbreed a new interchange and help make new flowers blossom. 

Special thanks to Kasumi Billington for translating.

Through an industrialized mill of grating guitars, warped electronics, war-torn percussion, & demonically catchy vocals, Uniform have bulldozed a path to the forefront of underground music. Michael Berdan (vocals, synths), Ben Greenberg (guitar, production), and Mike Sharp (drums) solidify their place as purveyors of industrial noise and champions of, and victors in, pushing boundaries.